Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power and the Amorphous Strums

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Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power and the Amorphous StrumsDark Developments
(Release Date: Oct. 28, 2008, Orange Twin)

By Matthew Ralph

Don’t let the too-long-to-fit-on-your-iPod-screen title of this project scare or fool you. Like the lengthy list of co-conspirators Vic Chesnutt has previously lined up in his prolific music career, Dark Developments is a Chesnutt-centered project that happens to feature the talents backing band the Amorphous Strums and fellow Athens group and Elephant 6 alums Elf Power.

With Chesnutt’s wobbly and profane-driven vocals front and center, Elf Power and the Amorphous Strums are mostly left in the large shadow cast by Vic’s clever wordplay and narration of eccentric oddities like Phil the Fiddler, a dog that appears in more than one place at a time and someone known only as little fucker.

But like his collaboration with Lampchop a decade ago, Elf Power and company shine from its place in the dark corner of the stage, providing the whistling, hand-claps, chorus of voices and added instrumentation that make quirky downtrodden anthems like “Bilocating Dog,” “We Are Mean” and “And How” even more endearing and accessible.

As is customary with Vic Chesnutt (see “Until the Led,” “New Town,” “Guilty By Association” and “Lucinda Williams” for other examples) there are particular lyrics, stanzas and choruses so catchy and odd that they become extremely difficult to get out of your head. Ask my wife about the “curious case of the bilocating dog” and she’d tell you what I mean by that. I was humming it to myself and singing it out loud for about a week after I first heard it. A similar thing happened with Chesnutt’s clever take on the five Ws and one H in “And How” when the mp3 of it was released in advance of the record a few weeks ago.

While catchy songs that immediately latch themselves onto you aren’t always a good thing with Chesnutt the catchier songs don’t necessarily because they are cheap and throwaway ear candy. In fact, the more accessible numbers often provide a window into a lively collection of original and distinct tunes that by the songwriter’s own admission (in a famous quotation cited on his Wikipedia page) are more about the pus and gnats than they are the bling and booty.

Simply put, this a cohesive affair of celebrated Athens musical outfits that the “smiling mayor” of Chesnutt’s old song “New Town” would probably be tempted to call a win-win situation.

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